It’s possibly the week I’ve had, but I’ve seen a lot around the place declaring Christianity to be fake, weak, not healthy, not for strong people, abusive, patriarchal and a whole lot of other things as well. And, there are Christian religions that are fake, weak, unhealthy, not for strong people, abusive and patriarchal in nature. It’s not something inherent in Christian spirituality itself though. That’s as a result of the structures and systems and people in power of each Christian church and religion.
I’m getting a strong sense of moral superiority for people who are no longer part of a Christian church or have never been involved in one. And it’s… well bluntly, it’s not nice.
I posted in one group that Christianity was once the religion (or actually, a cult really at the time) for the oppressed. For the poor. For those without power or money or free will. The first people who were enticed to Christianity, who were actively recruited in Rome in particular? Women and slaves. And women were very definitely not equals in Roman society.
Christianity, Jesus, preached a message of love. Of unconditional love. This was radical at the time. In the modern world, we almost take the notion of unconditional love as a given, but really it’s not. It’s a huge and powerful gift. And it doesn’t make one weak to need that gift. Just knowing that there is a being out there, anyone at all, that loves you unconditionally, is a huge part of keeping hope alive.
Now, that’s not to say that modern Christianity doesn’t have faults. The patriarchal structures, the abuse, the oppression, the elimination, the rigid thinking… all of these things are problematic and need to be addressed. But they are not connected to the original message of Jesus.
I regularly say I’m a Pagan Catholic as far as religion goes. This is because I was baptised Catholic, but also reach back to my pagan forebears and their practices (as best I can, there is frustratingly little there in the lore about the day to day practices!) One of the reasons I started down this path was because of the abuses within the Catholic church that came to light in Ireland in the 90’s. And if I’m honest, we thought it was just us. It was only in Ireland that women were locked up on flimsy excuses, that babies were torn from mothers, that fathers sometimes didn’t even know they were fathers, that children had the supposed sins of the parents heaped on them. But we weren’t. In recent decades, such abuses have come to light in most, if not all, Christian countries, and definitely the Catholic ones. The restriction of women’s rights over their bodies by the Catholic Church is something that causes immense pain and anguish every year, although thankfully modern governments are shaking off the control of the Church and at least passing legislation to allow for such rights to be enacted in law (I mean, in case it’s not obvious, the Catholic Church’s stance against abortion is what I’m talking about here and the widespread effects this has on women’s health in countries where that stance is held as law).
Early penitentials from the 5th Century on in Ireland show a lesser penance being enacted for an abortion that for carrying a child to term, or for anal or oral sex. Seriously. Although, to be fair, said penitentials appear to take all aspects of human life and apply a penance to it. It is my belief that these penitentials may not have been applied to the whole population, but possibly to religious communities alone (please note the word belief there though, not fact!) The current Catholic Church stance on abortion stems from 1869. Yeah, you read that right – 1869. Just about 150yrs ago…
In Ireland, the Catholic Church did a lot of good along with the bad. Our education systems, our health care system would not exist if it wasn’t for the religious orders. There have been some deeply devoted men and women in my own life who have lived a spiritual Christian life, even within Catholicism, and are examples to me of how best to live life – giving to others of their time, energy and knowledge. Not judging people. Not accusing people.
I’m lucky to have had those examples, and perhaps it colours for me the role of the Catholic Church in my life. I think the institution and structures should be razed to the ground and the great wealth that the Church hold distributed to the poor. I think the princes of the Church – for indeed, they are called princes – should be held accountable for the abuses that have occurred under their watch. I think they all , every single one, should spend some time engaged in the type of life they condemn many of their followers to. the whole thing about it being easier for an elephant to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven is something they have preached for centuries, to keep control of the masses, while side-stepping the issue with their vows of poverty, and claiming not to own any of what they use on a daily basis.
My rage at the Catholic Church could go on for a while.
But Christianity, as a religion, is a shorthand for the followers of Christ. Not the followers of St. Paul or St. Augustine, or the latest Pope. For the followers of Jesus Christ. Read his messages. He spoke of that love, that great divine love, that encompasses us all. He didn’t speak of those who were more deserving or less deserving. He didn’t speak of paying to enter Heaven. He actively overturned those who were using his Father’s home, the temple, as a marketplace. He consistently and continually recognised those who were oppressed, even tax collectors, who were despised then, as probably now. He was a left wing, radical socialist, who argued and demonstrated his commitment to gender equality, to supporting children, to treating people with decency and respect.
When we, as modern pagans, look at Christianity, we need to look at it’s origins, it’s belief structures and the differences between the message of the founder – Jesus – and the limitations and rules and oppression that those who followed after him implemented. Think back to how the gods were viewed in antiquity – they were to be obeyed, and frankly, it was only those who were rich or powerful might have been allowed the gentler service or higher service. A slave serving in a temple had about as much control over their lives as a slave serving in the fields or in someone’s house. An abused woman won’t really care if she is working in a temple or a marriage. Being continually and consistently told, by deed and word, that you were worthless and helpless and you are forever condemned to this state, with no hope of escape.
The prospect of a happy-ever-after, an after life that might be better than our current one, is not something the oppressed could depend on. How can you impress the gods when all you do is shovel shit all day? The unconditional love of a divine being a massive help to the oppressed, to those who humans say are worthless. There is a power in knowing someone loves you, no matter what.
The early messages also say we need to strive to be worthy of that love, now. We, no matter how oppressed or judged worthless by other people, have a responsibility as a result of that love. We have a responsibility to be the best we can be. There are days when that means dragging ourselves out of bed. There are days when that means taking the time to speak to someone who looks lonely. There are days when it might just mean acknowledging another person exists. The early Church was built around community, supporting each other, helping each other, teaching and learning from each other. Exploring Jesus’ message and showing that love to each other.
People underestimate constantly the power of love. It’s nothing to brush off lightly. And yes, the modern Christian Churches we see are hotbeds of abuse of power, abuse of people, patriarchy, etc. But that’s the fault of the people who set up these structures, the politicians in priests robes, the controllers and the oppressors. Those who converted populations at the point of a sword. This was fundamentally wrong. But the love that Jesus preached is still available to us.
Christian Churches have a lot of faults and it would be difficult to reform most of them I think. Any time a priest turns from leading their people by questioning to leading their people by providing both permittable questions and answers, there is power imbalance problem there. There is the point when the congregation turns from community to flock.
But that’s no reason to look down at those who practice spiritual Christianity. They are not weak – that is the fault our forebears had of Christians as well. They thought those who spoke of love were weak, when love can drive you to do things fear never will. I believe that Brigid loves me, as I love her. I believe Jesus loves me as I try to love him. I believe there is power in that love. It’s not passive, gentle or weak. It’s fiery, bright and strong. But it is still love.
So I would ask that as the popular people about you look down on those following a Christian spiritual path, look at the path those people are following. Look at the difficulties and obstacles they deal with. See what, if any, difference there is to your own. Don’t assume the meek have no power available to them. Don’t assume someone who shows a different form of respect to their deity is weaker than you are. Don’t assume you’re better. Don’t be like the people who decided that Christianity was too weak and needed to be made stronger.
Be true to yourself, your path and allow others to be true to theirs.